What’s in a Color Name?

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare.

By CMG’s VP Color Forecasting, Peggy Van Allen, Colorfuel

Is Color Naming Important?

While I may agree with Shakespeare’s Juliet, when it comes to color, I believe a name can be so much more. A name is an identifier. We like to label and categorize. It helps us understand. A good color name evokes an image, or it sparks a memory. A REALLY good color name makes an emotional connection. Chocolate Soufflé tickles the senses of taste and smell, it’s definitely a rich brown whether it is a wall paint or a scarf. Degas Pink and Monet Skies may not give you a precise color image, but they do give a sense of how the colors will feel if you use them in your color scheme. Citron is going to be tangy and crisp and bright. Decisive Red, I may not know exactly what that red is, but I want it!

Colors Without Names


Some color systems use numbers only to identify a color and sometimes the numbers correlate to where the color exists in a more scientific model of color space. This is excellent and precise for those who understand and specify color professionally. Thank you for those systems that get it right! But this post today is more about the conversation of color, the SOUL of color.

Rules in Naming

In my experience with color naming, there is quite a bit of latitude, often it is dependent on the situation. Sometimes the concerns are practical such as with a printed piece, where it has to be short enough to fit the allotted space. If the paint chip is two inches wide, the name and number shouldn’t be too lengthy. A color name for tile grout needs to be simpler and not too fluffy. With nail polish, the sky is the limit and the more outlandish and “punny” the better.

Names in the Buying Process

If you are making a color decision with a purchase, the actual name of the color is often secondary. Names can have a subliminal influence though and if you are indecisive the name connection may help you to decide. That’s where my motivation is lit. I want the color names to touch you in such a way that you are confident that one particular color is speaking directly to you. Conversely, if the name doesn’t really fit the color it can cause confusion.


Many names are nebulous and trust me, when you have 2,000 color to name on a project, they sometimes get a little sketchy.
Let’s use these examples to get into the head of the color namer. (These weren’t mine so I’m guessing here.)1. After Midnight Blue – It would be a deep blue, probably the darkest of the blues offered.
2. Ballet Slipper—trickier, is it a blush of pink or soft, satiny ivory?
3. Enchanting Ginger – hmm, what makes this particular ginger so enchanting?

As you can see, color can be complicated and sometimes the names don’t really make it simpler, but they are infinitely more fun! Color Marketing Group members have a blast when it gets to be time to name the World Color Forecast™. Secrets of the Deep is a dark mysterious blue. Big Hug is a mid-tone, peachy-pink. Schlime (one of my favorites) is a dark, organic, green-toned black. I bet you can picture that one!

Some of the fun in naming is born from the fact that there are few rules.


Common sense dictates that the name be descriptive and not offend. When I worked for a paint company there were a few situations where questionable names slipped by the proofers or took a turn south when translated to another language. Perry’s Winkle, anyone? All innocent mistakes but costly nonetheless, so yes, naming is a serious game in business.

There are so many factors that can influence a color name; cultural differences, psychology, historical associations. Sometimes creating themes helps to wrangle a palette. I bet you have seen some good ones when shopping online. Accurate descriptors are super important when the actual color of a product is viewed digitally.   You might not be drawn to the colors named Sad Little Day or Dragon’s Tears but then again, color is personal.

If you want to read more about color names, check out this article call 11 Color Names You’ve Probably Never Heard Of at Mental Floss or this one at TopTenz called Top 10 Weird Colors You’ve Never Heard Of.  And not to be outdone, here’s a selection of Dumb, Silly Paint Names. Oh, what the heck, one more: Ten Weirdest Car Names.

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